The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats, surprised on Obamacare, look to elections to save it

Protesters chant as Republican and Democratic House members walk down the steps of the Capitol in Washington Thursday, May 4, 2017, after the Republican health-care bill passed in the House. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In March, when Republicans pulled a vote on their American Health Care Act, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took off her shoes and literally jumped for joy.

On Thursday, as Republicans cobbled together the votes to resurrect and pass the bill, Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted that the sun was still coming out for Democrats — and her party sang an out-of-order goodbye jeer to the opposition.

“They are deluding themselves into thinking that they can hide the truth or hide from their constituents when they take their votes,” said Pelosi at a pre-vote press conference. “We welcome them to this great civics class. You can see, since the election, there’s been a heightened interest in what goes on in public policy and how it affects people in their personal lives. We look forward to having that debate.”

Democrats, not-so-secretly terrified that the majority will actually gut the Affordable Care Act, opted Thursday for a round of cheerful resistance. In the special elections that give them their first chances at slicing into House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s majority, each of their candidates used the day to oppose the AHCA. Their House campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), relaunched web ads in the districts of vulnerable Republicans. Daily Kos, the progressive group blog that has re-emerged as a fundraising funnel, raised $250,000 for an anti-Republican fund before most members had left the city.

“A big surge in donations now would have huge salutary effects right away: It would both terrify Republicans and boost Democratic efforts to recruit good candidates,” wrote Daily Kos’s David Nir, pointing readers to a list of Republicans who backed AHCA but represented districts that gave Trump less than 50 percent of the vote.

“In every congressional district that Hillary won, we’ll have a viable candidate. In every district where she was close, we’ll have a viable candidate,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a recruiter for the DCCC on the West Coast. “Next year, Democrats are either going to win five seats or fifty seats. Repeal of Obamacare will cause a wave to happen.”

There were more independent revenge operations on Thursday; the most successful came from SwingLeft, a project designed to link up volunteers with vulnerable congressional districts, and which claimed to have raised $400,000 for a general fund.

SwingLeft and Daily Kos had already pointed donors to the special elections in Montana, Georgia and South Carolina. (A fourth special election, in California’s 34th district, will send one of two Democrats to Congress on June 6.) In quick succession Thursday, the Democrat in each race condemned the AHCA and pledged to oppose it if it came back to the House during negotiations.

“This DC health care bill gives a massive tax cut to millionaires while jacking up premiums for Montanans,” tweeted Rob Quist, the Democrat running in Montana’s May 25 special. “I would stand with you & VOTE NO.”

In Georgia, Jon Ossoff, whom Democrats see as their strongest special election candidate, had launched a new ad attacking AHCA. “I strongly oppose this bill, which allows discrimination against Georgians with pre-existing conditions and would make health insurance unaffordable for millions of families,” he said. “This bill puts Georgians’ lives at risk. Congress should put aside partisan politics and work to make affordable insurance and quality care available to all Americans.”

In South Carolina, tax lawyer Archie Parnell challenged his Republican opponents to make a statement about the bill — two Republicans are facing off in a runoff for the nomination — and sent out a fundraising letter promising to vote against it.

“Once I win, I will be one more strong voice opposing Trump and Paul Ryan’s extreme, dangerous, and irresponsible agenda in Congress,” said Parnell. “Today, Republicans refused to put the American people before their political games. I would never do that. Period.”

Democrats in 2018’s competitive Senate races also came out against the bill, meaning that the progress of the AHCA will mirror what happened to the ACA — a complete lack of bipartisan buy-in. In doing so, like the Republicans of 2010, Democrats were cheered on by activists who had once worried not just that the ACA would be gutted, but that Republicans would be able to gut it quickly.

For the most part, progressive “resistance” groups have focused their organizing clout on events in the districts of vulnerable members, eschewing the mega-rallies that the tea party movement brought to Washington. On Thursday, MoveOn led a number of groups in a quickly organized, small rally outside of the Capitol.

That rally attracted little coverage at first, but as the vote ended, buses pulled up between the Capitol and the rally to drive Republicans to the White House. That gave protesters, and reporters, a genuine scene, with a long line of angry protesters chanting “shame” and “2018” as Republicans filed into their buses, protected by police.

The in-district protests might not be as photo-ready. Of the 217 Republicans who voted to advance the AHCA, just nine — Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa), Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.), Rep. David Brat (R-Va.), Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), and Rep. Dan Bacon (R-Neb.) — would be holding town halls.